cocoa vs cacao

Cacao vs. Cocoa: Any Real Difference or Simply Fancied?

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You may have scratched your head trying to figure out the difference…

And understanding the difference will not only satisfy your curiosity…

It will also reveal some insights into how your favorite indulgence can affect your health.

And if you thought “cacao” and “cocoa” were just two words meaning the same thing…synonyms…

Well…this is your moment of epiphany–deep revelations!

You see, while cacao and cocoa come from the same source…

The process they go through to get the end product makes all the difference…

Including effects on their nutritional benefits.

Everything we know as chocolate–in all its forms–starts at the same source: the Theobroma cacao tree.

This tree, native to South America, produces seed pods.

Harvesters crack them open to take out the seeds, which are called cacao beans

They actually kind of resemble coffee beans.

And you can eat cacao beans raw. Their flavor is like a very bitter form of chocolate…

And it varies depending on the growing conditions like soil, sunlight, etc. of the cacao tree.

Raw cacao beans taste bitter, but they’re healthiest when eaten this way.

Before they’re processed any further, the beans are usually fermented and dried, and sometimes not roasted at all…

And even though they come from the same place with cocoa, it’s this processing that marks their distinction.

If you’re a chocolate hound, you probably already know that cocoa and cacao are available in many forms: nibs, chips, butter, powder, and chocolate bars, just to name but a couple.

There is a plethora of scientific research data on the incredible health benefits of chocolate…

But the vast majority of these studies exploring the link between chocolate and related health benefits don’t deal with the chocolate you’d ordinarily find in the stores…

They’re focused on the cacao beans themselves–either in raw or minimally processed forms.

But in whichever form, the cacao beans are unparalleled super-foods…

Loading a host of awesome health benefits.

And here’s a quick rundown:

  • Antioxidant effects–Cacao beans are rich in phenolic phytochemicals and flavonoids, which protect your cells against damage from free radicals. Oxidative damage can result in premature aging and many of the modern day health conditions.
  • Boosts your mood and cognitive performance–Epicatechin, the main flavonoid in cacao, improves various aspects of cognition, preserves cognitive abilities during aging, and even puts you in a better mood.
  • Lowers blood pressure–Studies have found that flavonoids lower blood pressure by increasing blood vessel flexibility.
  • Protects your heart–Researchers found that flavanols and procyanidins from cacao increased antioxidant capacity in the blood plasma and reduced platelet reactivity, resulting in a healthier heart.
  • Regulates insulin levels–Epicatechin, a flavanol in cacao activates key proteins that help regulate glucose production, even among diabetics.

Cacao beans are also rich in nutrients like magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper, and manganese–all vitally essential body minerals.

Back to the processing…

Once the beans are dried and fermented, manufacturers heat them at a low temperature.

The heat separates the fatty part of the bean from the rest–a key part of the process.

Turning to cocoa

It starts pretty the same way cacao does–as harvested beans from the plant’s seed pods.

During processing, however, it’s heated at much higher temperatures, resulting in a slightly sweeter flavor and different health effects.

The cocoa powder is extremely popular in dessert recipes and it’s available in 2 types:

  • Dutch-processed cocoa powder, aka dark cocoa. This variety undergoes additional processing with an alkalized chemical solution to make the taste of the end product richer and less acidic. Any further processing should be avoided as it deprives it of its awesome antioxidants and nutrients.
  • Natural cocoa powder— This variety is a bit more acidic and bitter. You’ll find it often in recipes that call for baking soda because the soda alkalizes the natural cocoa powder.

Cocoa tends to be cheaper and easier to find than cacao…

The challenge is in finding a high-quality option without any added sugars, dairy products, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, or emulsifiers–“fillers” companies use to kick up the flavor and cut production costs.

It’s worth-noting that the heavier processing–heating at higher temperatures–that transforms cacao to cocoa, doesn’t just affect how manufacturers label the end product…

This heat actually affects the beans at a molecular level, changing their structure and diminishing their nutritional content.

Therefore, the heavy processing is what turns cacao into cocoa…

And much of the nutritional content dissipates in that state.

That means cacao has more powerful antioxidant effects and health benefits. For instance, 100 grams of raw cacao powder has an ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) of 95,500, which represents antioxidant capacity…

This drops to 26,000 in cocoa powder.

Notably, this doesn’t mean cocoa is inherently bad for you; only that cacao packs more health benefits.

The bottom line is…

Heating cacao or cocoa degrades some of the nutrients and lessens some of their powerful antioxidant effects.

But cacao is a few steps ahead because it loads more of them than cocoa.

And, how good is dairy mixed with chocolate?

Dairy limits the body’s ability to absorb the phytonutrients found in chocolate–don’t add it to chocolate!

Darker chocolate is better for you because it contains much higher percentage of cacao–around 70% more than milk chocolate

And the more cacao, the more nutrients and antioxidants.

Milk chocolate–commonly found in chocolate chips and bars–has far less and also tends to have more sugar, dairy, and artificial sweeteners.

But practically, every chocolate product you buy from a manufacturer contains dairy in some form. They add “fillers” like powdered milk to slash production costs and add sweetness.

So, even if you indulge the darker chocolate…for sure, you’ll get more cacao, but you still have to deal with dairy blocking your body’s ability to absorb it optimally.

Check your labels carefully for dairy-free chocolate treats, though they tend to be more expensive.

And…there you’re…

A clear distinction between cacao and cocoa…

Whichever you enjoy indulging, the choice is personal…

But this time around, you’ll do it from a point of knowledge!

To your gooey experience!

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